Back in the States

After a hellish day of travel, starting at 3AM and lasting about 26 hours, I got back to the US on August 2nd. I had a nice week of relaxing and enjoying the comforts of home, and am now in Florida for the internship debriefing meeting. So far I’ve seen ALOT of presentations by students and faculty about gravitational wave physics, and am kind of in physics overload. It has been nice to talk to the other students about their summers, and experience the sort of nerdy physics camaraderie when we go out to dinner and such. Just wanted to give a quick update about what I’ve been up to since Italy, and maybe I’ll have something interesting to write about from one of the physics talks tomorrow.

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August 12, 2009. Italy. Leave a comment.

Abruzzo and Rome

Just a quick update . . .

This weekend we went to Rome and got to see so many things – the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica

Soy gelato made my day!

Soy gelato made my day!

, Piazza Navona and silly street performers, and some good food.  We also saw hordes of the most ridiculous tourists I have every seen.  I couldn’t believe how many people were touching and climbing on the priceless statues in the Vatican museums, and just  how much people didn’t care about the rules against photos and talking in the Sistine Chapel.  Overall the city was beautiful, quiet, and full of things to do, and we had a great time.

Last weekend we stayed with Antonello, his family, volunteers, and the other visitor’s at his farm in the Abruzzo region.  The area was beautiful and we got to hike to a great waterfall in the mountains, undisturbed by anyone else.  But maybe better than the natural beauty around us was the hospitality of the volunteers and family at the farm.  Every night we had a delicious meal (they had no problems with vegans, yay!) of fresh food straight from the farm with the owner’s family and the other visitors.  Antonello’s father brought many bottles of his homemade wine during our wonderful after dinner conversations with the other guests.  Everyone was so friendly, and it was interesting to hear about everyone else’s travels around Europe.

July 28, 2009. Italy. Leave a comment.

And we’re off again

Since my professor has been away for about a week and will be away for all but 2 days of my remaining time here, and since the only other person in the lab who can help me is going to be gone until Thursday, we’re taking another trip! Since I’m stuck on a problem and can’t move forward without someone’s help, I’ve decided that my time will be better spent seeing more of Italy than sitting in the lab scratching my head for three days. We are going to the Abruzzi region, about 2.5 hours away to camp on a farm. It sounds wonderful – you can pick and eat as many of their fruits and veggies as you want, help out with farm chores, go hiking in the nearby national park, and they even serve a dinner of fresh products from the farm that can accommodate vegetarians and vegans! We’re very excited, and will post pictures and stories when we return Wednesday evening.

July 20, 2009. Italy. Leave a comment.

Vacation in Amalfi

Just a few hours ago Kyle and I got back from a 3 day weekend on the Amalfi coast.  We hopped between the coastal towns of Positano, Amalfi, Maori, and Minori during the day – visiting churches, walking down little streets lined with shops and restaurants, swimming at the beach, and doing a little hiking.

We stayed at an interesting Bed & Breakfast in Agerola, a little hill town far above the coast.  The town was beautiful, with lots of farms, vineyards, small-town-Italy grocery stores, and people who said “Buona Sera!” to everyone they passed in the street.  Even though taking the 40 minute bus ride up from the coast was a bit of a hassle, it was also an adventure, and I loved staying somewhere so quiet.  It was such a sharp contrast to the busy traffic and noise of Napoli.  In Agerola we heard cows mooing, dogs barking, and roosters crowing instead of honking cars and sputtering vespas.

To get to Agerola we took the SITA bus up the windy roads from Amalfi.  The roads along the coast are extremely narrow, with hairpin turns the buses can barely make with their wide turns.  It was amazing how close the bus came to cars, pedestrians, and vespas driving by.  We even got stuck at one point, and after a while of the cars not knowing what to do to let the bus by, several drivers got out and started directing traffic, having some cars back up, some wait to approach, until the bus could fit.  The first ride watching the cars scrape by us, and the huge drop to the sea below was a bit scary, and the zig-zagging turns were a little nauseating, but by the last day we were riding standing up like pros.

When we initially arrived in Agerola we were a bit lost (as usual!)- we had no specific directions to the B&B, just an address.  But luckily, an Italian man riding the bus with us noticed our confusion and took us to Paolo, a very friendly man who ran a youth hostel and camp ground in town.  He spoke English, and invited us in to look up the address on his computer, and then drove us a few kilometers to the B&B.  This was another one of those times where a kind stranger went out of his way to really make a difference in our trip.  We even took him up on his offer of a hiking map on Monday, and he explained how to find the trail we needed.

On the hike from Agerola to Amalfi we walked down many, many stairs around the homes built into the cliffs above the coast.  As we walked by some small hillside farms, we started to hear the tinkling of bells amplified by the imposing cliffs above us.  Looking up to figure out where the jingling was coming from we saw a procession of sheep and goats walking in a neat line along the hillside, herded only by two dogs.  We spent a good 15 minutes or so watching the dogs working to keep the sheep in line, and even saw one sheep get left behind as it seemed to fall a bit and injure itself on the rocks.

Overall we had a great trip with beautiful weather, gorgeous views, nice people, and a relaxing few nights in the countryside.  Pictures of all the fun should be up on flickr sometime tomorrow!

July 13, 2009. Italy. Leave a comment.

Getting Lost

Most of this weekend was spent getting lost as we tried to make our way to all of the Greek and Roman ruins around the Pozoulli, Baia, and Cuma areas (West of Naples).  While we get lost fairly often around here, this weekend was worse than usual, since these were smaller towns and the sites we were looking for were not as well known.  Many times we would ask someone on the street which way to go, and after walking for a while, finding nothing, and asking someone else, would be told that the ruins were in a completely different direction.  It was frustrating, but also kind of funny, and we did meet a very nice policeman who helped us in Fusaro.  We had asked a couple of people how to get to the Castello de Baia with no luck, but then we asked Luigi and he immediately started talking to us in very good English about the history of the area as he walked with us toward the castle.  He showed us some ruins along the way, hailed a bus for us and introduced us to his friend Enzo, the bus driver, and told us a little about himself.  He was a really friendly, helpful guy, and I really appreciated that he delayed his lunch break to help us out.  Overall we got to see a really neat Roman amphitheater, the Temple of Serapide, the Solfatara volcano, and the Castle of Baia, as well as the pretty seaside town of Pozoulli.

While we did spend alot of time trying to find all of these places, and took many of the wrong buses and streets, we saw some interesting things, and got to have some interesting interactions with people.  We’ve also discovered that many Neapolitans seem to go toward the Pozzouli/Baia area to go swimming, so we now plan to go back another weekend to take a dip in the Mediterranean.

June 28, 2009. Italy. Leave a comment.

Capri, Herculaneum, Napoli Underground

I haven’t been updating as frequently as I would like, so I’m going to try to start writing shorter, more frequent posts about what we’ve been doing here in Italy.

Last weekend we went to another island in the Gulf of Napoli, Capri.  Capri was much more touristy than Ischia, and we were a little disappointed at first by the town center.  All of the shops were SO expensive (Prada, alot of other designers I can’t remember, a freshwater pearl store) and we couldn’t find a pizza for less than 6 euros (which is outrageous, since we can get pizza here in Napoli for 2.50!).  Once we got away from the town center and started walking down the more residential streets (though even those neighborhoods are mostly vacation rentals in the summer months), we got to see the beautiful homes and landscape of the island.  We even stumbled upon a hiking trail, where we hardly saw any other people as we climbed down the steep, rocky coastline toward the beautifully clear blue water below.  Our way up included alot of very steep stairs, but I thought it was well worth it.

This past weekend was spent visiting the ruins at Herculaneum, and the underground tunnels of Napoli.  Herculaneum was interesting, though not as informative as it could have been since they ran out of English maps.  We also planned to visit the crater at Mt. Vesuvius, but after confusion with the bus, and a long walk that apparently took us in the wrong direction, we decided to just head further down the coast to see Sorrento.  We didn’t stay long, as we got a bit lost on the train (see a recurring theme here?) and were getting hungry for dinner.  The little streets full of shops, parks, and coastline were very pretty though.

The coast of Sorrento

The coast of Sorrento

The Napoli Subterraneo tour was also really neat.  The tunnels were originally built underneath he Greek city of Neaopolis, and were later used by the Romans as an aqueduct.  The network of tunnels extends underneath most of the city, and you can even walk from the center of Napoli to Pompei in them.  In 1942, 2,000 Neaopolitans lived in the tunnels for 2 months to escape heavy bombing by the British.  We got to walk through some really narrow tunnels by candlelight, and see ancient Greek and Roman walls which have withstood centuries of earthquakes and construction above.

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June 22, 2009. Italy. Leave a comment.

Ischia and adjusting

I’ve been in Napoli for almost a week now, and am starting to adjust to life here in the city.  It’s surprising how fast Meagan, Kyle, and I have been picking up on Italian words, and I find that I’m growing bolder in talking to Italians to ask for directions and order food.  Crossing the street is also becoming easier and we’re starting to become pros at navigating the subway – at least to our internship site.

My time at the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) and the University Frederico II has gone well so far, and though I haven’t made any breakthroughs yet, I feel that I am able to get through the readings and problems assigned to me.  Both of our advisers are very nice, and though they speak less English than I think we expected, we have been able to communicate pretty well so far.  We also have the help of Fabio and Luca, two wonderful professors who speak fluent English and always go out of their way to help us at work.  Luca has been showing us how to get lunch in the cafeteria, while Fabio has invited us to play volleyball and go running with several of the professors.  Luca has also promised to take us to what he considers to be the best pizza in Napoli sometime.  I look forward to seeing where his loyalty lies – apparently there is much heated debate over what the best pizza place is here.

Possibly our biggest frustration here, and a problem which will unfortunately effect how well we get to know our colleagues, is the long commute each day to work.  From our apartment in the city center it takes 1 to 1.5 hours to reach the university by metro and bus, without getting lost or caught in traffic.  While it has made me proud to navigate the busy streets and public transportation and blend in (at least somewhat) with the locals on their way to work each morning, adding 3 hours to our workday is tiring to say the least.  This makes it difficult to get to the grocery stores before they close difficult, and leaves us little time to explore our surroundings.  Hopefully we will move to an apartment closer to the university soon.  Though it has been quite an experience living in the middle of such a busy city, some space and more time after work will be a welcome change.

This weekend we spent all of Saturday exploring the island of Ischia, the less famous cousin of the famous Capri.  The island was beautiful, with pretty parks, small winding streets of colorful apartment buildings, palm trees, vines of brightly colored flowers, and shops selling local goods such as monstrous lemons, and a popular local liqour called limoncello.  We visited many old churches, and climbed a rocky outcrop to the ruins of an old restaurant.  Though the path was blocked off and overgrown we had fun bushwhacking up the side of the hill to what must have been a cozy restaurant with a gorgeous view of the Gulf of Naples in years past.  We returned on one of the latest ferries, exhausted, a bit sunburned, and hungry, but happy with our first real day of travel.  We also came back with lots of pictures which I will upload on my flickr site soon (flickr.com/bofiek).

While I could write more the adventure Kyle and I had getting lost in the city, our trip to the National Archaeological Museum today, the crazy party our roomates had until 3 AM the other night, I think I’ll leave things here before this post gets too long.  So in conclusion, a picture from Ischia:

Porte di Ischia

Porte di Ischia

June 7, 2009. Italy. Leave a comment.

Arriving in Napoli

Yesterday afternoon, I finally arrived in Napoli, Italy, for my much anticipated physics internship.  For those who don’t know, I’ll be spending 2 months here doing physics research on gravity waves as part of a National Science Foundation REU (http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5517&org=NSF) through the University of Florida.

When I arrived at the airport, I was picked up by a shuttle driver who took me to the apartment I’ll be staying in for the summer.  Driving down the narrow, busy streets of Napoli was a bit of a scary experience between the lack of lines on the streets, speeding Vespas, and pedestrians trying to cross with no crosswalks.  It also didn’t help that my driver was busy answering his many cell phone calls while constantly trying to wipe the fog off of his windshield while driving!  But I made it to the apartment safe and sound, where I met my 5 other flatmates and Meagan, another American students in the physics REU with me.  Everyone so far as been very nice, though it’s quite hard to communicate since we all speak different languages.

Being able to speak English with Meagan was such a relief, and as we were both starving from a long day of travel we went out into the city looking for a place to eat.  Oddly enough, at about 6 PM all of the restaurants seemed to be closed, which we learned later from our Italian flatmate is normal – restaurants don’t open until about 7 PM here.  We ended up at a little grocery store, which I was very happy to see had soymilk, pasta, and I few other things I could eat.  We had a funny encounter in the check out line, when the cashier told Meagan in Italian something was wrong with the cheese she was trying to buy.  Seeing the bewildered look on our faces, she laughed and tried to explain with many hand motions the problem, which eventually we gathered was that we had to weigh the cheese at the deli counter first.  While not being able to speak Italian is a bit frustrating I’m amazed how much you can understand with some creativity and gesturing.

Never having lived in a city before, Napoli is a bit overwhelming so far.  The traffic, loud street outside my window, and new language are all taking me a bit outside my comfort zone at the moment, but I’m sure my time here will prove to be a great learning experience overall.

To close this post, here’s a picture of the street I’m living on, from the cute balcony of my apartment:

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June 2, 2009. Italy. 1 comment.